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Minnesota 6th: Clark, Bachmann get down to issues

ST. CLOUD -- As the most expensive congressional race in the country heads toward Election Day, fundraising heavyweights Michele Bachmann and Tarryl Clark finally met in St. Cloud on Tuesday for their first title fight -- an initial debate late i...

ST. CLOUD -- As the most expensive congressional race in the country heads toward Election Day, fundraising heavyweights Michele Bachmann and Tarryl Clark finally met in St. Cloud on Tuesday for their first title fight -- an initial debate late in a grueling campaign.

Clark, a DFL state senator, is waging a well-financed but uphill battle to unseat Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman and national hero of the Tea Party movement. Bachmann's $11 million haul has surpassed any House candidate in history.

The Sixth Congressional District that wraps around the northern edge of the Twin Cities is one of the most conservative districts in Minnesota. To combat Bachmann there, Clark must target independent voters -- an effort complicated by the presence of a third candidate in the race. Joining Bachmann and Clark for the debate at the St. Cloud Civic Center was Bob Anderson, an Independent Party candidate who grabbed 10 percent of the vote in 2008. He could determine the fate of Clark's campaign.

The candidates discussed at length the value of major legislation passed by Congress over the past two years, including the federal stimulus and health care law.

But the sharpest blows emerged over so-called "card-check" legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize -- an issue absent from the race until Tuesday.


Clark did not explicitly say whether or not she would support the bill, but noted that "it's important to have a level playing field both for business and for our employees."

Bachmann was quick to respond: "I think you've just heard a politician tell you that, 'Yes, she will be voting on card check.' I think that's what you just heard." Anderson also delivered a jab. "You better get that clarified before you get any more union endorsements," said Anderson, a dental technician who introduced himself as "citizen Bob" in contrast with the two politicians.

Clark frequently tackled Bachmann's record in Congress, zeroing in on what she said was Bachmann's lack of attention to the district. She also criticized Bachmann for attacking stimulus spending but nonetheless sending letters in support of local stimulus projects. "You can't have it both ways," Clark said.

National debt showdown

Bachmann took aim at both former President George W. Bush and President Obama over the national debt.

Bush, she said, accumulated too much debt during the last year of his presidency and Obama allowed it to balloon.

"Were we in a mess? Yes," Bachmann said. "But when you're in a hole, you don't dig it down even further."

Clark noted that the Minnesota Legislature is not allowed to run deficits and called for Congress to abide by pay-as-you-go rules, which require all legislation to be paid for with nonborrowed money.


"You voted against pay-as-you-go," Clark said to Bachmann, "which is kind of an odd thing for someone who says they're a fiscal conservative."

Bachmann responded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not follow those rules, despite passing them through the Congress.

"You're not running against Speaker Pelosi, you're running against Tarryl Clark and Bob Anderson and you need to go ahead and explain your votes to the people of this district," Clark said.

Bachmann also repeatedly decried what she said was wasteful government spending from the stimulus, which Clark defended for funding infrastructure projects and providing a tax cut for the middle class.

"What you will see going forward ... are the largest tax increases," Bachmann said. "Why? Because someone has to pay for this trillion-dollar stimulus bill."

On health care, Bachmann said, the current law should be repealed and replaced by legislation that would enact tort reform and allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines.

Clark said she would "fix" the bill, noting that she did not like its mandates for purchasing health insurance.

Anderson said he does not support the bill, but applauds the Obama administration for trying to fix the system.


Battle on the airwaves

Bachmann and Clark have waged a ferocious ad battle over Minnesota's airwaves for several months. On Tuesday, both said their views have been misrepresented.

Clark said Bachmann's attacks have focused on her efforts in the Legislature to balance the budget, likely referring to her vote this spring for an income tax hike to close the budget deficit, a frequent topic of Bachmann ads.

"Nobody would know that by what your ads say," Clark said to applause from the crowd.

Bachmann said there have been "false and misleading" statements about her, "whether it's been on Social Security or outsourcing."

Anderson, who has not been the target of any ads, took on his opponents for spending millions on ads he said no one wants to see.

"I think you should both be ashamed of yourselves," he said.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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